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Acid Reflux Relief: Pepto-Bismol or Bismuth Poisoning?

Acid Reflux Relief: Pepto-Bismol or Bismuth Poisoning?


Welcome to our easy guide about a common problem called acid reflux, which many people deal with. You might know it as that uncomfortable feeling in your throat or stomach that can happen if you eat something spicy or when you're stressed.

In this blog, we're going to talk about why this happens, share some simple ways to help make it better, and also talk about some popular stomach medicines like Pepto-Bismol and other over-the-counter medications that might not be as good for you if you use them a lot.

If you often get that burning feeling in your stomach or throat and are searching for ways to feel better, keep reading! We will share some essential tips and info about ginger, a natural digestive aid, and its effects on the digestive tract that could help.

Understanding Acid Reflux

Acid reflux, or gastroesophageal reflux (GER), is a common digestive issue when stomach contents, including acid, move up into the esophagus. This can cause a burning sensation or discomfort, often mistaken for indigestion or heartburn.

The lower esophageal sphincter (LES), a muscle that acts as a barrier between the stomach and esophagus, can become weak or relaxed, allowing stomach contents to escape. Understanding acid reflux and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), including the symptoms of GERD such as heartburn, regurgitation, and GERD symptoms, as well as possible complications like esophagitis and the role of the diaphragm, is crucial in finding relief and preventing potential complications, especially for those who are overweight or have obesity. As advised by Ekta Gupta, M.B.B.S., M.D., a gastroenterologist with Johns Hopkins Medicine, a thorough understanding of the patient's medical history and a physical examination is crucial in diagnosing and treating acid reflux and GERD.

Upper endoscopy is often used to confirm a diagnosis of GERD or check for complications, such as esophagitis. The diet also plays a significant role in controlling symptoms and is usually the first line of therapy used for people with GERD.

Causes of Acid Reflux

Acid reflux can happen for many reasons:

Hiatal Hernia: This is when part of your stomach pushes up into your chest, making it easier for acid to get into your throat.

Weak Muscle: A muscle acts like a door between your stomach and throat. If it's not strong enough or relaxes when it shouldn't, acid can sneak up into your throat.

Certain Foods and Drinks: Some foods and drinks like spicy stuff, fatty foods, things with caffeine, alcohol, and fizzy drinks can make acid reflux happen more often.

Overeating: If you eat a lot at once, it can push on your stomach and cause acid to rise into your throat.

Being Overweight: Carrying extra weight, especially around your belly, can push on your stomach and cause acid reflux.

Pregnancy: When pregnant, the extra pressure on your belly can cause acid reflux to happen more quickly.

Smoking: Smoking can make the muscles that are like a door between your stomach and throat weaker and produce more acid in your stomach.

Certain Medicines: Some medicines can worsen acid reflux as a side effect.

Lying Down After Eating: If you lie down right after eating, gravity can't help keep the acid down in your stomach, so it might enter your throat.

Medical Conditions: Some health issues can slow down how fast your stomach empties or affect how food moves through your system, leading to acid reflux.

Low Stomach Acid: It might sound strange, but insufficient stomach acid can lead to acid reflux.

Not Enough Nutrients: Not getting enough of certain nutrients, such as proteins, zinc, some salts, and B vitamins, can also lead to acid reflux.

Understanding these can help you figure out why acid reflux might be happening and what you can do to feel better.

Symptoms and Complications

This condition can make someone feel a burning in their chest (often called heartburn), have food come back into their mouth, feel pain in their chest, have a hard time swallowing food, and sometimes taste something sour.

Other symptoms and complications of acid reflux may include regurgitation, chest pain, nausea, problems swallowing or pain while swallowing, sore throat, and symptoms of complications in the mouth, throat, or lungs, such as chronic cough or hoarseness.

If this happens over time, it can lead to more significant problems such as inflammation in the tube that carries food from your mouth to your stomach, narrowing of the tube, or changes that could lead to a severe illness like esophageal cancer or scar tissue formation.

These symptoms may be more severe if you have a large hiatal hernia. They may require additional treatment options, such as laparoscopic hiatal hernia repair or medical treatment, including the LINX device. A diagnosis may also be made through an ambulatory 24-hour pH probe, where a small tube with a pH sensor on the end is inserted through your nose into your esophagus to measure acid exposure from the top of your stomach. Upper endoscopy may also be used to diagnose acid reflux and potential complications.

It is essential to check if you have acid reflux and seek medical attention if you experience symptoms such as heartburn, a sour taste in your mouth, chronic cough, hoarseness, or bad breath.

Depending on the severity of the condition, medical treatment may include lifestyle changes, medication, or surgery, including a biopsy to diagnose any potential precancerous lesions in the esophagus and throat.

In rare cases, acid reflux can progress to a fourth stage with severe symptoms that can lead to precancerous lesions in the esophagus and throat. Therefore, it is essential to seek medical attention and manage acid reflux symptoms, including weight loss, before they become severe. A new procedure

Conventional Treatment Approaches

When you have acid reflux, stomach acid returns to your throat. This feels uncomfortable and can harm your throat and stomach if it happens frequently. Doctors usually suggest a few different things you can do to feel better.

Changes in what you eat and do:

  • Eat safe foods: Some foods can make acid reflux worse, like spicy or fatty foods, caffeine, alcoholic drinks, and fizzy drinks. Try to avoid them.
  • Eat smaller meals more often: Big meals can push against your stomach and make acid back up. Eating smaller meals more often can help.
  • Don't lie down after eating: Stay upright for two to three hours after eating. This keeps the acid down in your stomach.
  • Lift your bed head: Raising the head of your bed by about 6 to 8 inches can help. This makes it harder for stomach acid to enter your throat when you’re sleeping.

Common medicines you can buy:

  • Antacids: These medicines, like Tums or Rolaids, help by making the stomach acid less irritating. They work fast but don’t last very long.
  • H2 blockers include medicines like ranitidine (Zantac) and famotidine (Pepcid). They slow down how much acid your stomach makes and last longer than antacids.
  • Proton pump inhibitors (PPIs): Pills like omeprazole (Prilosec) are potent and stop your stomach from making a lot of acid. They help if your reflux happens a lot or is uncomfortable.

Prescription medicines:

Sometimes, the regular medicines don’t work well enough. Then, you might need a doctor to give you a prescription for more potent pills. These might be stronger PPIs or medicines that help your stomach empty faster so acid doesn’t come back up as much.

Talking to a doctor can help you find the best way to handle acid reflux and feel better.

The Double-Edged Sword of Acid Reflux Medication

You might know about Pepto-Bismol, a standard medicine for stomach problems like heartburn and upset stomach. It uses an ingredient called bismuth subsalicylate to help coat the stomach and fight off germs. But did you know that bismuth can be harmful if too much builds up in the body?

What is Bismuth?

Bismuth is part of the medicine that can help with stomach issues, but too much of it isn't good for you. It can stick to some essential parts of our body called sulfur groups. Sulfur is necessary because it helps build and repair our DNA and protects cells from damage that can cause severe diseases like cancer. Sulfur also helps our body break down food and keeps our skin, tendons, and ligaments healthy.

Why is Too Much Bismuth Bad?

If there's too much bismuth, it can mess up enzymes. Enzymes speed up reactions in our body, like helping cells communicate. When enzymes are messed up, we might not get the necessary vitamins and minerals, leading to health problems.

Symptoms of Too Much Bismuth:

  • Gingivitis: Swollen gums
  • Loss of weight and appetite
  • Albuminuria: Protein in urine indicating kidney issues
  • Loose stool
  • Skin reactions: Such as hives, eczema, and rashes
  • Headaches
  • Fever
  • Depression
  • Kidney and liver damage
  • Anemia: Low iron levels in blood
  • Ulcerative stomatitis: Swelling and sores inside the mouth

If someone uses Pepto-Bismol a lot and starts seeing these problems, it's essential to talk to a doctor. They can help determine if bismuth is causing the issues and what to do about it. Remember, medicines can help, but using them correctly and knowing their effects is good.


In simple words, acid reflux is when your stomach hurts because the acid goes up to your throat, which happens to many people. It can make you feel uncomfortable. Knowing why it happens and how to deal with it can make a big difference.

If you take medicine like Pepto-Bismol to help, it's important to remember not to use too much because it could make you sick in other ways, like bismuth poisoning. It's all about finding the right balance - eating smaller meals, not lying down right after eating and using medicine correctly.

If you're getting uncomfortable, it's a good idea to talk to a doctor who can give you advice that's just for you. This can help you feel better now and stay healthy in the future.

If you've been taking a lot of this medicine and feel worried, a special test like the HTMA (hair test) could tell you if there's a problem and help the doctor figure out the best way to treat your stomach trouble. Schedule yours today!

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